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World Tea expo offers a different flavor in Las Vegas

Updated March 23, 2022 - 6:36 am

Bar and Restaurant Expo-goers this week may have noticed what looked like an out-of-place trade event focused on a historic drink: tea. But that seemingly mismatched show at the Las Vegas Convention Center was by design, organizers said.

Questex acquired the World Tea Conference + Expo from Informa two years ago with an eye toward aligning tea with the fast-growing nonalcoholic beverage and health and wellness sectors.

“Customers going into bars or restaurants are really dissatisfied with the options for non-alcoholic drinks – sodas, high-sugar juices, that sort of thing,” Tim McLucas, vice president of the bar and restaurant group for Questex, said Tuesday. “Tea is a very overlooked option for the consumer. The idea here was to make sure we were providing opportunity for both segments to overlap. We certainly have a lot of bars, restaurants and hotels that are interested in tea and tea-related products so it seemed like a natural marriage.”

McLucas hopes to double the tea expo next year by bringing back international companies that avoided traveling this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also expects domestic growth to occur once Questex communicates its nonalcoholic beverage strategy to the national market, he said.

About 50 vendors were stationed in the middle of the convention center’s south hall. Attendees walked through rows of aromatic loose leaf teas, bright teapots and cups and disposable boba tea cup booths.

There was even a booth for a tea-themed board game called “Chai,” where two to five players compete to collect tea and ingredients to fulfill orders for their tea shop.

“Tea and the industry is very welcoming,” co-creator Dan Kazmaier, of Calgary, Canada, said. “Same with board game people. We’re just all here to help each other and collaborate. So, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Darlene Steier, owner of Silver Hawk Tea, Coffee and Beyond in Colorado Springs, purchased a game for her teahouse. She and her family enjoy board games and streaming, she said, and this was the type of product that could get customers to stay at the business longer.

“We do have a sitting area for people, but I’d like to get more people (inside) because with COVID they’re still not coming back like they were,” Steier said. “They’re coming in for tea but we’d like to get them in the shop and this will do it.”

One high-tech booth attracting attention in the tea expo was Bobacino, an automated tea bar. The booth demonstrated its robot moving through the phases of making a standard boba drink of black tea, milk, syrup and tapioca pearls, also known as bubble tea.

Darian Ahler, CEO of Bobacino, said he hopes to get the product into high-traffic areas including malls, college campuses and airports, after it launches in several spots across Los Angeles later this year. The company came to the tea convention to show off the machine’s capabilities beyond the marketing materials.

“We’re just seeing (the boba industry) start to really take off,” Ahler said. “Our hope and expectation is that we’re catching the tailwind of a growing industry, not only with the boba market, but also with the food automation market.”

The World Tea Conference and Expo was co-located with the Bar and Restaurant Expo in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall through Wednesday.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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